The Middle Child
Let me tell you a tale of my last window cleaning job of 2018.
My friend Kaye is a strong, intelligent and beautiful bad to bone gal. We met seven years ago. She teaches aerial performance and yoga in her spacious, quirky, high-ceilinged apartment in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The building is five stories tall, built in 1895, and used to be a furniture manufacturing facility. Her landlords bought it in the 1960s, converted it into residential units, and Kaye has rented her apartment for 10 years.
There are two types of ancient, creaky, rope-and-pulley, double-hung, cranky bastards in the apartment. They had not been cleaned in decades. Each one has a set of storms, and most have a screen. Some of the pulley systems are broken. She has six eight-foot-tall windows facing the street below. One of those has a rusted, crumbling fire escape under it, but they all have a 15-inch stone ledge on the exterior. The other three double-hung windows, in the back, are much bigger; about 6 feet wide and 10 feet tall, and those are fitted with four storm windows each. To pull those lower sashes closed, I had to hang on them.
This job took me five visits instead of the two I’d hoped for. I had planned on six hours, tops, but it took me twelve. By the third visit, I needed advice and re-enforcements. Craig Hendzel (super skilled in old windows) spent time messaging and skyping with me to try and solve some issues, and Rick Wren came to help me out on one occasion. I’m very grateful for their help.
Fellow windies, you all know how this goes. You have a beloved friend with the tragic combination of an incredible space and horrifying windows. You know you can help them, you want to help them, yet you know all too well that it’s gonna SUCK.
But love wins. And after grossly underestimating the time it will take, or knowing subconsciously but ignoring it, or hoping for miracles (“…I shall call upon my window-ninja-guardian angels…”) you say yes to your friend, because, man, she deserves clarity in her life.
And inevitably, despite all of your skills, experience, hopes and good intentions, it turns into a catastrophe.
I am not proud of this fact, but a few years ago I had a window-cleaning gig that literally made brought me to tears. Kaye’s windows were not on that level of suckage, but they definitely made my list of Top Ten Most Difficult Jobs.
I did it during the week of both Christmas and New Years. On the first night, it was 19 degrees Fahrenheit, (that’s about negative 35 degrees Celsius, for you those who have more sensible units of measurement, like the Metric system), and winds were high. When I went up to the rooftop to have a smoky treat and take photos of the downtown skyline, the air hurt my skin, but that’s Minnesota for you. I decided to do the storms and all the inside panes first, and to tackle the outsides on a warmer day.
Overall, most of the work was totally manageable. In total, I cleaned seven windows (32 panes, insides and out) that required every ounce of my care, strength and skills. I made use of steel wool, scrapers, my vintage Ettore squeegee, mop, Gunslinger, FallTech harness, climbing rope, and a six-foot ladder, besides my ninja-like balance and lion-like courage.
I started in the training studio. Because it ended up taking so long, I also cleaned all the mirrors in there for free.
I set up a storm washing station in the studio room, putting towels down and sitting on a stack of gymnastics crash pads. The storms are in two separate tracks, and to remove them, I had to raise them high enough to clear the metal “lip” in the frame that holds them in. They were heavy, but two of the three sets of storms came off just fine.
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